Boris Johnson has started implementing his Brexit Instruction Manual and many Britons don’t like the way the mirror looks back to them. Reducing international development aid by 0.7% to 0.5%, contrary to the commitment imposed by the 2015 law, has led to an unprecedented rebellion among many conservatives. The excuse is the pandemic and the massive internal public spending that was necessary to mitigate its effects. The upshot: When the G7 summit begins in Cornwall on Friday, the UK will be the only wealthy country to cut foreign aid. The Global Britain بريطانيا Which Johnson promised after leaving the European Union would be, in the eyes of many critics, a more selfish country with less international influence.
Former Conservative Prime Minister John Major said: “It is morally untenable to relieve the financial burden at the expense of some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people.” The last five prime ministers before Johnson – Major himself, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Theresa May – have joined their voices against a decision they see as an irreversible blow to the UK’s image. Alongside them are all the opposition parties, major humanitarian groups, and up to a dozen Democratic members of Congress in the United States, who have called on Joe Biden to speak out against these cuts, just as Washington has dramatically increased its budget allocations.
A group of Tory rebels, led by former International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell, forced a debate in the House of Commons on Tuesday over the decision’s alleged illegality. They had complicity Loudspeaker (Speaker) of the British Parliament, Lindsay Hall, was the first to be outraged by government attempts to prevent MPs from dealing with the matter. It was an “emergency debate”, and the government avoided a final vote, but most of the interventions brought out the colors of a supposedly liberal and internationalist Johnson who champions just causes. “I ran in an election where my party platform was proud to deliver on its 0.7% promise,” former Prime Minister May said with a noticeable distress on her face. “They listen to us in the rest of the world not because we are the UK, but because of our actions and because of how we put our principles into practice. The damage to our reputation from this action makes us weaker when it comes to defending any cause.”
Britain’s foreign development aid will remain one of the highest in developed countries, but the planned cut, around €5.2 billion, translates into a sharp drop in the amount devoted to girls’ education, water purification, or the fight against slaves. Trade in countries like Somalia, Syria, Yemen or Afghanistan. The disappearance of a certain Department of International Development, the consolidation of its budget into that of the State Department, and the increase in international vaccination aid have exhausted resources for other projects that require the same or more urgency.
Waiting for the courts
Johnson’s government maintains that its decision is temporary, and that it will return to 0.7% as soon as the economy allows it. The International Aid Targets Act, approved in 2015, makes an exception in its text: “economic conditions and, in particular, substantial change in gross domestic product.” But it is a legally debatable exception, because it refers to the possibility of the goal not being achieved, not to the fact that it was deliberately changed. Moreover, Downing Street has even resisted committing to reversing the measure next year, despite the announcement by the Bank of England – and Johnson’s government on this – that the economy will grow strongly again in the US. Second half of 2021. Everything indicates that the British courts will have the last word.
Besides the stubbornness of the Economy Minister, Rishi Sunak, to balance the accounts, there is a political reason for Johnson to continue his efforts. Traditionally left-wing voters in the so-called “red wall” of northern England, the same ones who supported Brexit and who have now moved into the ranks of the more nationalist and populist Conservative Party, support the resolution. According to the latest survey of YouGov54% of citizens compared to 28% believe that “the government is right to reduce foreign aid.”
“This decision is immoral for the world and very impractical for the UK”
Conservative MP David Davis
But the problem with these surveys is the simplicity of your question. This was paradoxically explained by Conservative MP David Davis, one of the UK’s staunch advocates of Brexit, who had allied with the rebels on this occasion: “Of course they prefer spending money on British schools before those in another country,” Davis said. “But when it is brought to the table, the real question is when will British honesty come in. When you ask if they want children to die from polluted water, 76% oppose it. This decision is immoral for the world and very impractical for the UK.”
After more than a year of pandemic and forced confinement during which Johnson could do little more than announce with speeches and gestures his vision of a new Britain ‘free from EU shackles’ and open to the world, the best chance to shine came this weekend. The G7 summit in Cornwall, which began on Friday, was the first in-person meeting of the leaders of the world’s richest countries. And the first visit to Europe by the new US President Joe Biden. His message of global solidarity, his renewed efforts to combat climate change, and his commitment to extending vaccines to all continents were preceded by a major slap on the wrist of Parliament, which accused the prime minister of showing the dark side. The global Britain that was to come from Britain’s exit from the European Union.